Chris Martian—pronounced like a person from Marty, not Mars—spoke with me yesterday about his run for U.S. House, which he announced over the weekend by filing his statement of organization with the Federal Election Commission. We understand that in South Dakota, a candidate isn’t 100% in until he has submitted his nominating petition with (in Democrat Martian’s case) 706 valid voter signatures by March 27, 2018. But while we wait for candidate petition season (January 1, you’re so far away!), let’s find out what the only declared Democrat in the statewide field is about.
Martian tells me he’s never run for office before. He says he’s just an average guy who has followed politics more closely since Donald Trump won the 2016 election. He’s a computer guy, so the Internet privacy issue that Congress voted on last month particularly caught his attention. Martian figured Internet privacy was a “no-brainer”—why would any regular citizens want their Internet service providers collecting and selling their browsing histories to anyone with cash? Yet when he tried to get information from South Dakota’s Congressional delegation about the Internet privacy rules up for debate, he found our elected officials more interested in justifying their votes to repeal those rules than in providing complete and useful information.
Noem’s, Thune’s, and Rounds’s votes against Internet privacy bother Martian. Noem’s Thune’s, and Rounds’s failure to provide complete information to help voters make up their own minds seem to bother Martian even more.
Thus was born a run for Congress.
Martian says his wants more than anything else a Representative who offers constituents better communication: more complete information, more education on all sides of issues, and more two-way conversation. What does “more two-way conversation” look like? Martian says that as Congressman, he would offer…
- …more live interactive events on Facebook, which he says he’s seenother members of Congress using;
- …more personal responses to e-mails;
- …when the e-mails get too voluminous (that probably happens sometime around lunch on the first day), podcasts that address common issues raised in multiple e-mails;
- …more town halls; and,
- …schedules of public events posted well in advance, something he says he cannot get from any member of our current delegation.
Martian hasn’t laid out a policy agenda yet. He recognizes the Trump budget would do a lot to harm South Dakota. He supports tax reform that helps middle-class families, but he wants to know how any tax reform will affect the federal budget. In general, Martian says he doesn’t trust simple solutions; good policy is more complicated than slogan-y cries for repeal.
As I reported on Monday, Martian was registered as an Independent. Martian has always considered himself an independent thinker, but he has recently realized that, on specific political issues, he leans Democratic. He thus went down to the Pennington County Courthouse this week and changed his registration to Democratic, to be entirely up front with voters about where he stands.
Martian doesn’t have any immediate critique of the other announced candidates, Republicans Shantel Krebs and Dusty Johnson. He says he hasn’t met them and isn’t really focusing on them. He does acknowledge that seeing their announcements of their campaign fundraising did prompt him to make his own announcement. At the very least, says Martian, we need a Democrat in the race now to seek equal coverage alongside the declared Republicans on the issues. Martian doesn’t shy away from the thought of another Democrat challenging him; a primary challenge fits his desire for more conversation and comparison of competing ideas.
Against political veterans Krebs and Johnson, Martian maintains that he has “a fighting chance.” He says running for office is scary, but, “If it’s a scary thing, it’s the right thing to do.”
Martian hopes his newcomer status will play to his advantage: he hopes that an “average guy” like himself can appeal to voters who are tired of echo-chamber politics, voters who want to have real conversations about the issues.
Martian also thinks his background in information technology can play to his advantage. Martian says his work in IT consists of people coming to him and saying, “Here’s what we want to do, we have no idea how to do it, now figure out how to make it happen.” He says his “familiarity with unfamiliarity” is key to solving problems.
The two challenges facing Martian now are increasing his own familiarity with all the policy issues South Dakotans will want to hear about from an aspiring Congressman and then increasing South Dakotans’ familiarity with him. Martian has no history of work with the Democratic Party or activist groups to provide a built-in network of support.
It’s good that Martian wants to be the conversation candidate, because to build this Congressional campaign from scratch, he’ll need to have a lot of conversations.